Rabbi Yael Ridberg Reflects on Dor Hadash During 2nd Chaiby Alex Wehrung September 25, 2019
Dor Hadash, the Reconstructionist congregation situated on the San Diego Jewish Academy campus, is celebrating its 2nd chai, or 36th-year anniversary. Rabbi Yael Ridberg, who has been Dor Hadash’s rabbi since 2010, reflected on making her start at the congregation and what makes it unique amongst other San Diego-area synagogues.
Rabbi Yael first came to the congregation of 115 families after serving as the rabbi for a New York-based synagogue for 12 years. “And one of the very early feelings that I got was Dor Hadash really wanted to move into its next phase of establishment here in San Diego,” she said.
Dor Hadash achieved a more visible presence “when we left our space in Kearny Mesa, and then went on to rent space from first the San Diego Jewish Academy, and then the Beth El synagogue in La Jolla.” Dor Hadash then left Beth El and made SDJA its permanent home.
“When you choose to create a participatory and community-based organization that is about partnership, that’s about belonging, that’s about a sense of, in some ways, do-it yourself-Judaism, it’s a very exciting and dynamic kind of congregation.
“It’s unique. It’s not big, it’s intimate and it’s really a blessing to be able to help to create community in a place like San Diego where they are a lot of different options, and it’s a matter of ‘where do you feel most at home,’” she said.
Rabbi Yael described ‘do-it-yourself-Judaism’ as being “about Jewish literacy, Jewish empowering [of] a community to take on an understanding of Jewish life, and ritual, and observance. And the intellectual inquiry in purposeful ways.”
“I think that the history of Reconstructionist Judaism, of reconstructing Judaism in America, led people to feel like they could take a degree of ownership of their engagement with Jewish life in perhaps ways that they had not grown up doing.”
The Reconstructionist Judaism movement (which has links to the Havurah movement) has a storied history. It was kick-started by Orthodox rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, who declared that Jewish tradition ought to be consulted regarding modern Jewish lifestyle, but not take its dictates as absolute. The movement overall identifies as being politically and religiously progressive; there are no barriers for inclusion.
“Reconstructionist Judaism is a very embracing ideology and lens through which Jewish communal life can be imagined for the 21st century. And so I think that when we think about how we are as a community, the tagline of the movement as a whole is very apt: ‘It’s deeply rooted, and boldly relevant.’”
Dor Hadash grounds itself to this idea of relevance through its advocacy of social justice. It has participated in the San Diego Pride Parade for the past 15 years, and holds an annual service to teach the beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as discuss how to honor and carry forth his legacy. Several members of Dor Hadash also founded ‘Detainee Allies,’ a group that provides spiritual, communal and psychological support for detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Members of Dor Hadash, including Rabbi Ridberg, also stood in solidarity with Muslims in the aftermath of the white supremacist terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“We see a direct link between the teachings of our traditions,” Rabbi Yael said, “and how we are called to be in the world. And so our community continues to show up whenever we are asked and whenever there is the need, both in the Jewish community, like after the Pittsburgh massacre, certainly after Poway, and as well as after the immigration bans that have come down, to really speak out as a community that remembers that we once were strangers, and we once were refugees, and we still are people who not only should take care of ourselves, but our commitment is to care for others.
“Because if we don’t do both–care for ourselves and others–then we’re not living up to the values that Judaism offers.”
To celebrate its 2nd chai, Dor Hadash will be putting on several events–many of which are currently still in the planning stages–and will perform outreach to get members of the San Diego community to visit the synagogue and see if they might want to return to it. “There’ll be a number of events throughout the year that enable that to happen,” Rabbi Yael explained.
“We don’t ask anyone to abandon their head or their heart at the door. When people come where they come from and they are accepted as they are, we just want people to take a degree of ownership of their own Jewish life and practice, and that enables people to feel like that there aren’t many barriers to entry. Like, you don’t have to look a certain way, you don’t have to be married to a certain kind of person, you don’t have to have children or not have children. There’s such diversity among our members, that I feel like we look like the Jewish world. And that feels
“There’s that which is a celebration for us ourselves, which is not at the exclusion of anyone, but that we’re also just excited… what’s the next 36 years going to be? How can we be even more present in the community? But all of our events, all of our services, all of our classes they’re all open to the public, they’re all available for people to come and try us out and seek us out, and we really invite everyone to do that,” Rabbi Yael said.